Alex Hackett is a friend to Extreme Nazarene and to Pedal to Plant. He served alongside 40/40 church planters from time to time in Cusco, Peru in 2011 during six months he spent there after graduating from Northwest Nazarene University. He currently works for Safe Routes to School in Nampa, ID, and today has graciously offered to share his story of cycling coast to coast.
I have always been an adventurous person, I love being outside, seeing new places and meeting new people. I’m a sucker for it all. A year after I graduated from NNU, I was working for a marketing firm in Boise shooting and editing corporate commercials and I had been fixated on traveling across the country. I originally toyed with the idea of train hopping or hitchhiking but then I had talked with a friend and he asked me if I considered bicycling. Lo and behold, I ordered a book about bicycling across America from Amazon that evening. After knowing how I would journey across our beautiful land, I wanted it to have some value or purpose, so I inquired with the American Cancer Society to see if I could raise money in memory of my mother, Pam Hackett, who passed away very quickly from cancer. She was a very active and intentional person so it was only fitting to try and mirror her character.
During our “training”, we only biked 60 miles just a handful of times and the very first day of our trip we biked 80+ miles; I remember waking up the next morning sore, sunburnt, and thinking to myself, “How am I going to do this every day for the next couple of months?” Giving up was and is constantly in my mind. I cannot tell you how many times I considered giving up but I was fortunate to be traveling with my good friend, Evan Chaney, and he was a huge source of encouragement and support. Most times he didn’t even have to share any words with me, but just seeing him tackle a hill climb or enduring the same hot and humid conditions reminded me that I am not alone, we are in this together. The other source of motivation for me was cycling in the remembrance of my mother, and for Evan’s mother who also passed away from cancer; there was something much bigger than us just cycling across the country, but a spiritual and therapeutic process.
In This Together
For this tour, it was just myself and my good pal, Evan Chaney. We met through another friend at NNU and became fast friends, enjoying the outdoors, rock climbing, backpacking, cycling and world traveling. I prefer to travel with another person because they are a source of encouragement and help. We are social beings, created to go through life with others, this allows you to laugh and share memories with another human being that you can look back on. There are pros and cons in all relationships; we need to recognize that these things do not make the person, but are attributes for us to act and react to. Anytime you share every meal together, or a 4ft by 6ft tent, or exert yourself physically, emotionally and spiritually with another human being for three months, you are going to encounter abrasiveness, difficulties, annoyances, laughter, tears, and joy. Evan and I came to a point where we couldn’t stand being with each other, but we had so many more times that were positive–that is how life and relationships work. We are gifted with the ability to communicate, but we are not always the best communicators. Being able to recognize your own triggers and ways to recharge is something I know now, but didn’t at the time, and it would’ve been so helpful for our cross-country trip. A good friendship works through difficulties, and Evan and I have since bicycled down the Pacific Coast from Vancouver, Canada down to San Diego and lived/worked at a ski resort together.
A quote that I really liked around this time frame of biking across the country was from the folk musician Jim Croce where he said, “If you dig it, do it. If you dig it a lot, do it twice.” I decided I really dug it, so I did it day in day out for three months, and then did another two month tour, and am currently scheming of how I can do another one in the near future. Bicycle touring is unlike any other traveling I have done. Hitchhiking is the closest, but it still lacks the nuances and opportunity that cycling allows for. My only advice, or probably question for someone thinking about participating in Pedal to Plant is do you want your life to be drastically changed and pushed in ways you couldn’t think of or plan? Traveling by your own human power is incredible and mind boggling; bicycling allows for all of your senses to be engaged unlike in a car or airplane, you will be oversaturated with sights, sounds, smells (pleasant or unpleasant) and even taste. I have so many fond memories from this trip that are triggered from smells and sounds. We are blessed to live in such a vast and varied landscaped country; you will get to see and experience the country in such a unique way. My first bike tour restored hope in me that I had lost from being jaded; it was because of the wonderfully generous, kind, caring, hilarious and hospitable people–friends that we met along the way. I am still friends with many of the people I met on this tour; I’ve seen them get married, their children grow up, move on from heartbreaking and tough times, and even restored from patterns of poor health and life habits.
Highs and Lows
It’s amazing when you look at a map and see the route you plan to take, the sheer amount of miles, high/low temperatures, amount of elevation gain/loss, just the calculation alone of how many days it would take is daunting. There were many different difficult times and places on our trip but the first week was the most challenging. I always tell people that it takes at least a week or two to get into the rhythm of touring; your body starts to readjust to cycling for 6-8hrs a day, confined to a dozen or so body positions. You start to understand how to use all of your time properly for daily prayer, recounting poems, songs, scripture verses, or other random things logged away. Our first week went from a beach in San Francisco through the hill country to eventually switchback up the Sierra’s and down into Lake Tahoe. Our bodies, minds and domestic comfortabilities were all being stretched. We started to finally understand what touring would look like, how to pack our panniers properly to have the stuff we would access the most on the top and the other less used things towards the bottom, certain stretches were important in the morning while others were important when you called it a day. The first week brought us heat, rain, thousands of feet of elevation, snow, and 56mph speeds coming down from the mountain pass. A tough but memorable experience.
A week before we finished our trip in Boston, Massachusetts, our friend Matt came and biked with us the remainder of the time. Not only did we have a friend getting a glimpse of what our previous three months were like, but we also had our friend, Mike, in Boston for a work trip, so we were able to finish our trip and celebrate with two dear friends. It was a special feeling to share the completion of our trip with friends, so this was a highlight for sure. One would expect a big cathartic moment, but nothing like that came; we were able to experience numerous micro-cathartic moments throughout our three month bike trip. We were able to traverse our country, explore numerous national parks, new cities, meet wonderful new friends, and experience blessings from strangers. So rewarding, I still have not fully fathomed it.
The first story I would like to share was in a Mexican restaurant, the former mayor of Tonopah, Nevada overheard our lamenting about the tough day of riding against a brutal headwind, and then she got us a free room at the scariest motel ever, the Clown Motel. Clowns. Everywhere. Extremely kind but extremely terrifying.
The second story is when Evan and I were in Missouri the first week of July, and we were riding through the Ozarks on 4th of July, and we wanted to do something for the holiday. Evan really wanted an American flag to attach to his bike, and per usual the road provides, so he fixed a small flag to his rear panniers and we rode into a beautiful park. There was a family reunion going on at the park and we were welcomed in with open arms and tons of food by the DeWitt family. We feasted and celebrated together with our new family.
The third and last story I will share is when we were in Washington D.C.–so towards the end of the trip–we were arriving into downtown D.C. to spend three days exploring the museums and city. As we were pedaling over the Arlington Memorial Bridge, a police car pulled up alongside us, asked where we were going. We told him we were headed to the National Mall, and he flipped on his lights and gave us a police escort over the bridge to the front of the Lincoln Memorial. It was a really surreal and special memory.